Trust, Service

& Accountability

Behaving Ethically

Workforce Practices

A strategic approach to the workforce includes assessing and improving workforce practices and procedures including job analyses and developing job descriptions; evaluating and improving internal work processes, procedures and practices; and promoting labour force productivity. This includes addressing health and safety, employee motivation and inter-group relationships and cooperation. 

Behaviour and work practices

All managers have a responsibility to regularly assess their agencies and units (i) to clarify the current and future demand for the services their agency is providing and (ii) to assess if their workplace culture, skills and experience of their staff and management, reporting arrangements, job descriptions, and work processes, procedures and practices are meeting business, customer and employee development needs in ways that are efficient, effective and ethical. 

These reviews are timely occasions to seek employee suggestions on how to improve business processes and service delivery standards and to remind all employees of the standards of conduct expected of them. 

An effective performance management system must not only clarify expectations in relation to tasks and outputs (the ‘what’), it must also set expectations in relation to individual behaviour (the ‘how’). 

The objective and four core values of the Ethical Framework are supported by eighteen principles which are predominantly behaviour based statements.  These behavioural statements set the expectation of individual behaviour within the NSW government service. It is important now that the expectation and minimum standard has been set by the Ethical Framework that agencies actively manage employees in relation to behaviour.

A performance development and management system which sets specific behavioural expectations for individual roles provides an opportunity for agencies to hold employees to account for their behaviour against the expectations set by the Ethical Framework.[1]  The Ethical Framework sets a baseline for how employees are expected to behave. This baseline should be maintained and enforced through performance management.

Performance Management Framework

The Public Service Commission is currently developing and piloting a performance management framework for the NSW Government Sector. The performance management framework establishes a holistic approach for the NSW government sector, encompassing all aspects of employee performance.

The framework represents an important foundation for introducing broader workplace reforms, including linking capability to performance and strategic and operational workforce planning.

The framework consists of six key components:

  1. Clarifying expectations
  2. Monitoring
  3. Reviewing
  4. Developing
  5. Recognising and rewarding
  6. Dealing with underperformance.

Each of the six key components of the Performance Development Framework represents a suite of essential elements, or activities, focused on aligning individual and team effort with organisational objectives.

The performance management framework will address issues such as under-performance.

Unethical behaviour

Behaviour contrary to the Ethical Framework for the government sector can bring individual employees into disrepute, undermine productive working relationships in the workplace, hinder customer service delivery, and damage public trust in your agency or the broader government sector. Some forms of unethical behaviour may constitute misconduct, which carries significant potential sanctions.Leaders within agencies are to promptly and actively address behaviour which is inconsistent with the Ethical Framework because of the perception that a lack of action condones unethical behaviour.

If leaders are not seen to punish dishonest behaviour, this adds to the perception that they are themselves dishonest because they tacitly condone dishonest behaviour.

It is also essential that agencies have policies and systems that facilitate reporting of unethical behaviour.  In the case of unethical behaviours such as dishonesty, for example, effective internal reporting mechanisms and appropriate handling of reports are integrally related to employee perceptions that honesty was an important aspect of how the organisation functioned.

Under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994, agencies have obligations to ensure that they have appropriate processes in place for employees to make public interest disclosures about serious wrongdoing, and to be protected from reprisals if they do so.

Among other things, agencies are required to establish procedures for dealing with disclosures; ensure employees are aware of these procedures and the protections available; appoint authorised officers to receive disclosures; ensure disclosures are properly investigated; protect staff from reprisals if they make a disclosure; take appropriate action in response to an investigation report; and to provide information to the Ombudsman or other integrity agencies as required by law.

Responses to unethical conduct should be proportionate to the level and extent of such breaches.  The range of systems and responses may include:

  • All reported matters are investigated, and a formal report tendered to the CEO or other as appropriate
  • Leaders act, and are seen to act, on governance matters and other ethics related issues as a priority
  • Irregularities such as fraud, falsification of records, discrimination, or conflicts of interests, are escalated by staff, and immediately addressed
  • There is consistency in rewards and punishments for similar actions regardless of position.

For a practical example of the importance of effectively addressing unethical behaviour, see the ethical scenarios ‘Charlie’s photos’ at page 130 and ‘Investigating allegations of misconduct’ at page 132.

[1].  St James Ethics Centre, NSW Public Sector Ethics Stocktake Report, (